What will they think of next?


By Hayley Smith | Thursday 08 May 2014

Working as part of Operations Team here at Alzheimer’s Research UK, I’m mindful of the impact technology has on our work both here at Head Office but also out in the labs.  But for me, technology is also important closer to home.


My father is what you would call a ‘gadget-man’, always keen to find out about new technologies and gizmos.  Having worked in a bank all his professional life, when there was the opportunity to try-out and then roll-out new technologies he was always the first to volunteer and take the lead.  I guess my interest in this area comes from him, so when Dad was diagnosed with dementia, and life started to get more difficult for him, it was natural for me to reach for technology to see if that could help. There is a lot of different technology out there for people affected by dementia, but this is how we decided to use it and the help it has given us. I guess the first of his new gadgets, was a replacement mobile phone as he could no longer fathom his old one. The new phone had just four buttons each labelled with our names, designed to make calls simpler.

Giving Dad freedom

The next was prompted by a specific incident.  We ‘lost’ him on a trip to the Isle of Wight.  He was only out of my mother’s sight for a couple of seconds, but it was just long enough for him to vanish.  Panic set in (for my mother) as it was like losing a toddler.  She was on her own, away from the safety of home turf and she couldn’t guess what my father would do.  Several hours later and after the local constabulary had been called in to help her look for him, they went back to the holiday rental to find him sat outside waiting for them.  How on earth he had remembered where this place was, when he couldn’t remember how to hold a sandwich without the filling falling out earlier in the day took us all by surprise.  He hadn’t asked for help or raised the alarm, because as far as he was concerned, he wasn’t lost. Soon after that trip we bought him a tracker.

There is a lot of different technology out there for people affected by dementia, but this is how we decided to use it and the help it has given us.

It’s the size of a matchbox and he wears it around his neck every day, tucked into his shirt front pocket.  Although he’s not out on his own much now, it gave Dad the freedom to continue to walk the dog, pop into town on the bus and retain his independence much longer than any of us would have been comfortable with had he not got the device.  Although solo jaunts are a thing of the past now, it’s still a little box of confidence for him and we feel better knowing we can find him at a moment’s notice or track where he’s been that day.  It also features a help button which he can press and it calls us, if we are concerned we can dial in to hear where he is and talk to him and it also sends us a text alert if he wanders outside of an area we can specify.  As for Dad, he likes the flashing lights on it.

Help at home

Now that he is a little more housebound, the gadgets are too.  There are lights around the home that come on when they detect movement, so that he can get safely to and from the bathroom at night.  When my mother goes out, she records a message on another gadget in the hallway.  If Dad wanders round the house looking for her, the motion sensor is activated and it plays her message to him, “I’m just out walking the dog, I’ll be back shortly”. The answer to his most frequently asked question “what day is it?”, is now on a large digital clock near his favourite armchair and even personal hygiene is high-tech.  Mum now brushes his teeth for him and last month bought him a new electric toothbrush.  “What will they think of next?” he exclaimed when she showed it to him.  The fact he’d been using one previously for the past 15 years, and had even bought me my first one, has somehow been deleted from his memory.

These days, he struggles to operate any gadgets himself and even the TV remote is a challenge. It just goes to show:  even if you can’t work technology – technology can still work for you.

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Hayley Smith